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  • Misak indigenous leaders toppled the monument to Sebastian de Belalcazar in Popayan, Colombia on Wednesday. September 16, 2020.

    Misak indigenous leaders toppled the monument to Sebastian de Belalcazar in Popayan, Colombia on Wednesday. September 16, 2020. | Photo: EFE/Elkin Rojas

Published 17 September 2020
Opinion

Colombian indigenous senator Feliciano Valencia said, "a symbol of 500 years of humiliation and domination over indigenous peoples has fallen."

On Wednesday, dozens of Colombian indigenous leaders toppled a statue of the Spanish conqueror Sebastian de Belalcazar atop the Morro del Tucan archaeological site in Popayan, the capital city of the mostly indigenous Cauca department in southwestern Colombia.

The monument to the Spanish conqueror (1480-1551) was toppled during a protest led by community leaders of the Misak, Nasa, and Pijao indigenous groups.  

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The scene was captured via cell-phone video in which viewers can observe the statue, erected 84 years earlier by local authorities on the sacred Misak site of Popayan Hill, being thrown to the ground and then laid to the side of its pedestal. A Spanish conqueror who "founded" the Ecuadorian capital of Quito and important Colombian cities like Cali, Pasto, and Popayan, Belalcazar was named governor and adelantado of Popayan in 1540, only to be sentenced to death ten years later, for, among other reasons, butchering the Misak peoples' ancestors.

In a message posted on Twitter, Nasa senator for the MAIS party, Feliciano Valencia, said, "a symbol of 500 years of humiliation and domination over indigenous peoples has fallen. My respect for the Misak brothers and sisters. As a pluriethnic and multicultural state, other symbols must flourish and adorn our liberating landscape."

"Communiqué from the People's Trial against Sebastian de Belalcazar explaining why the Misak indigenous people toppled his statue in Popayan. The people speak, the people lead."
 
The Cauca Indigenous Regional Council (CRIC) published a tweet in which it affirmed: "if the government is upset over the violence against statues, what actually hurts us are the real lives taken away from us by real-life violence."
 
In another message, the indigenous organization explained that the people who toppled the statue did so because "they were tired that death in the territories are happening on horseback, on motorcycles, in trucks and helicopters, and taken away are lives, experiences, people."
 
While supporters of Colombian President Ivan Duque, such as notoriously racist Cauca senator Paloma Valencia, denounced the acts and defended the statue, opposition leader and senator Gustavo Petro said: "The monuments to the conquerors and slaveholders are an insult to the Colombian people, its indigenous people, and African minority."
 
Indigenous people throughout Colombia have been taking part in anti-government protests that began on Wednesday and are expected to culminate in massive demonstrations against the far-right government Monday.
 
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